Kate Gillwood was born in Galashiels, Scotland, raised from three years old in Yorkshire, found herself in London for 30 years and eventually escaped back to Scotland. She was raised to swim in rivers (the Wharfe at Appletreewick, for example), open air pools (Otley) and the sea, so open water swimming is not new. She started taking part in organised events about 10 years ago, putting on a wetsuit for the first time for the Great Scottish Swim in 2011. Now living just a few minutes from Portobello beach, one of her favourite things is to start the day with a sneaky swim in her local waters. She also likes to explore new swimming spots and share what she finds.
Given the state we’re in and that I’ve been distracted by my coaching, I’ve been considering renaming this blog to ‘Diary of a wondering swimmer’. Sticking to covid rules limits my wandering, but I am fortunate to live close to the sea and within allowed distance to a very lovely and swimmable reservoir, which is where I have been swimming today.
It’s 3.30pm, I’m standing in the fading light, its windy with a threat of rain. Perfect. I’m really not put off. It’s amazing what a year can do. Is it wrong that I feel a bit well, experienced?
Built in the mid-1800s as one in a network of reservoirs to serve the city as a water supply it now operates as part of a flood prevention scheme for the Water of Leith. It is a popular swimming spot given its location with people from the city and further out west coming here: swimblers, serious triathletes and everyone else on the swimming spectrum.
I picked my way through the slippery mud, pebbles and occasional rock that make the entry ‘interesting’. I prefer starting from the small sandy beach at the far end of the reservoir but couldn’t spend the extra few minutes it would take walking down to it. I know people swim in the dark, but I don’t. Last winter I stupidly stayed in the water too long on a dark, frosty morning to get in a certain polar bear distance, which resulted in mild hypothermia.
All well and good but there’s always something. I was determined to ‘film’ this swim but my choice of gadget to hold the camera was a bad one. The hand boom type thing that you attach to your wrist funnily enough meant I couldn’t swim properly. I found myself in 8-degree water, wanting to enjoy the thrill, but being distracted by lack of ability to move as well as I would want to help keep my body temperature from dropping quickly. I failed and managed only 100m. But it didn’t matter because this is such a lovely place to swim with low rolling hills overlooking you and the surrounding trees being buffeted by the wind.
Being inland you can get blue green algae and sometimes very low water in the summer, with reeds to contend with. But if you make your way to the middle there is a channel deep enough to enjoy the water unheeded. If you are lucky, you may spot brown or rainbow trout jumping. These fish have been purposefully bred here for anglers’ sport, not something I am a fan of at all, but it is what it is. However they got here, it is a treat to see a fish seemingly jumping for joy, just because.
After my somewhat arduous swim I made my way out of the water through the previously mentioned mud and stones back to the grassy edge by a small tree, often frequented by swimmers. I am happy to report that I got changed in record time and made my way back to Clova (my camper van – see Highland Adventure for more) feeling refreshed and with any anxiety I may have been experiencing vastly reduced, you know how it is.
I was swimming at Threipmuir Reservoir situated in the Pentland hills to the south/south west of Edinburgh. From the City Bypass A720 turn onto the A70, follow that to Balerno and turn left on to Bridge Road, following the signs to the reservoir. Currie Rugby Club is on your left. Follow the winding road which eventually leads you to a car park. From there walk along the track, through two gates and Threipmuir is on your right. There are also buses that go to Balerno from all parts of the city including the 44 and the walk from there is only a couple of miles.
It is a relatively safe place to swim although be aware of reeds at the sides and stay away from the overflow at the far end (from where I swam). It’s a great place to get some distance in or just have a dip, whatever takes your fancy.
There are no facilities at the car park or by the reservoir.
If you have any suggestions of places I could swim email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Instagram @kategillwood4